Chasing Contentment

Friday, May 27

On Monday, we will leave on our first-ever family vacation with Eliza. In all honesty, this will be Griff's first big vacation. We'll be away from home for six days, visiting family (whose company we very much enjoy) and doing fun things. How amazing!

Griff was about a year old when Mike began his doctoral work, under the assumption that it would take him about a year to finish his coursework. A year stretched into two and then into three. One of Griff's first words was 'ippi,' as in, 'Where's your daddy this week?' ... 'ippi.'Mississippi's a hard work for a two-year-old. I never dreamed that when we had a second child (also something I never dreamed of), Mike would still be working on his doctorate.

I feel a lot of times like our lives have been defined by his doctoral work for these last five years. And he isn't finished yet. He's close and working so very hard, but not finished yet. The biggest, most painful struggles we have had in this life together have come as a result of this doctoral work. This has been hard work for him, mentally and physically. It has been hard work for me, holding our little family together.

In Griff's entire life, this is the first summer that Mike won't be away from home for most of it. And so, we are taking our first family vacation. I love the power that sentence has. I love the promise that it holds. I honestly cannot quite envision a life without this doctorate sitting with us, because even when Mike's not working on it, he's thinking about it. It's with us. But soon... it won't be.

And the lushness of that life beckons to me. It is my dream. I have a friend who longs, who dreams, who aches for what could be. My dream is to have the four of us at home, content, together. And so, for me, this vacation is the beginning of the opening up of a dream. And I can hardly wait.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, May 27, 2005  ]

Thursday, May 26

What a delightful surprise! A month and a half after my birthday, my sweet brother sent me a gift certificate for $50 worth of fun beads and bracelet making stuff. How much fun! I can hardly wait to pick stuff out!

It seems to me that God sends little - and big - surprises just when we need them, just like I believe He sends special people just when we need them, too. I love the notion that He's got this big puzzle, and He's moving the pieces around to meet the needs of His children.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, May 26, 2005  ]

Wednesday, May 25

It's often said that confession is good for the soul. I think we often use that excuse to tell things we shouldn't be telling to people who would rather not know. But I also think that sometimes saying things out loud to someone we trust is a liberating thing.

I have this aversion to embarrassment, mine and everyone else's. When the moment of embarrassment happens in television shows, I either mute the show or change the channel long enough for that awkward tension to pass. I work very hard to avoid those awkward moments in life or at the very least to minimize their exposure to Mike alone (God bless him for having to be the witness to the majority of my awkward moments!). In my head, I'd like for people to believe that I have things together, though anyone who knows me well knows that isn't nearly true.

We have this big vacation planned for next week. We'll be visiting Mike's brother and his family and doing lots of fun things with them. One of the greatest blessings in our lives is that God has provided us with siblings who love us and who have amazing families that we love in return, so the visiting part of the visit is something I am very much looking forward to enjoying. But there are all of these nagging insecurities about how this or that might happen and then there would be lots of witnesses to my awkward moments and general un-togetherness.

I was telling Mike some of this last night and he asked me if I knew women who appeared to have it all together. Then he asked if I liked those women. He pointed out that it seemed a little off to strive to be someone I wouldn't like. God uses him in countless ways to refine my spirit, and I'm grateful that Mike can cut through my neurotic worries to show me things like this.

So. I'm just this big mess doing the best I can.

As luck would have it, my sister-in-law who will be hosting us all next week emailed me this morning and said something about not liking this or that about herself, and I took the opportunity to share with her one of my big worries about this week (so remarkably superficial and selfish that I'm not at all sure I should share it here - see, still worried about appearing all together). And I felt a big lightness after I hit the 'send' button. If I tell her my worry, then it doesn't seem so worrisome. (I have a similar neurotic worry about tummy troubles, and I had this mortifying incident this spring with my brother and sister-inlaw. And while it was quite possibly the most mortifying thing that's happened to me in years, it was also a little liberating. My fears came true, and as it turns out, not much happened, other than they were generous and kind to me. So I'm not so afraid of that particular fear any longer, thanks to their love.)

Mike never ever worries about what anyone thinks about him. He is who he is and people can take him or leave him, and he's just pretty much fine either way. And I'm working on developing more of that attitude. I'm understanding that who I am in my heart is more important than what size I wear (a very nice one, Mike would say) or how clean I keep my home (not very).

If God were to judge me on my appearance of being all together, I'm quite certain I wouldn't pass the test. I've got dyed hair, acrylic fingernails, a fake tan, and press-on toenails (my big, huge fear is that someone will see how terribly icky my real toenails are). If 'all-together' were God's determining factor, I'd be found to be a fake.

When people come to visit and I don't make time to clean really well and I'm not cooking, I hide the overflow of dirty dishes that won't fit into the dishwasher in the oven. When the annoying kid from across the street knocks on the door for the hundredth time that weekend just so he can say something ugly to my son, Griff and I sit quietly in his room - pretending not to be home - until the kid goes away. I take puzzle books with me on Sundays for Griff to work during big church. I let my kids eat off the not-so-clean floor (Eliza shares with the dog), and I haven't cooked a meal in more than a week now (it's just too hot for cooking). All-in-all, not such an all-together showing.

But my goodness how good it is that God will judge my heart and not my togetherness! And so maybe confessing all of these crazy, silly things will ease my worries of them. Because in all honesty, I'd muchly prefer that people see a woman who loves her God, her family and friends and who would sacrifice to help someone in need than that they see someone who has it all together. I'd prefer to be wholly flawed and approachable than someone who has it so together that other women are hesitant to approach and share with me.

I'm grateful to get to be all flawed with such amazing people supporting and encouraging and strengthening me. And I'm looking forward to next week's vacation so much more today than I was yesterday simply because I'm letting go of some of my own freakish worries.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, May 25, 2005  ]

I read about this quiz on TypeBlogs and, as I'm a sucker for a quiz of any kind, I went and took it myself. I can't ever decide if I think the results from these things are accurate, but this one certain got some things right, probably more than I'd like to admit. My results were...
20 Questions to a Better Personality

Wackiness: 62/100
Rationality: 40/100
Constructiveness: 60/100
Leadership: 18/100

You are a WECF--Wacky Emotional Constructive Follower. This makes you a Candle burning at both ends.

You work until you drop, and you play until you can stand to work again. You have so much enthusiasm that you can find it hard to control on your own, and you appreciate the guidance that channels your energy and lets you be your best.

In a relationship, you require lots of attention and support. You often over-contribute and end up feeling depleted and cheated. You may benefit from more time alone than you grant yourself.

Your driving force is the emotional support of others--especially affection. You can run on empty for miles if you have positive energy behind you. Without it--as it occasionally must run dry--you are depressive, listless, and difficult to motivate.

You need a lot of affection. Get it any way you can, but never at the cost of your self-respect or well-being.

Of the 125,072 people who have taken this quiz since tracking began (8/17/2004), 7.6 % are this type.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, May 25, 2005  ]

Monday, May 23

My friend, Mika, has MS. Mike's mom had MS and died from complications from the disease. (Eliza's named after her paternal grandmother, Lillie.)

In the car one night last week, I told Mike that Mika was having some problems and that the doctor had prescribed a three-day steroid drip. Griff asked some questions, so Mike and I tried to explain MS some and to explain how it was affecting Mika and how it had effected Mike's mother.

Griff's a lot like me, like my brother, John. He's a thinker. It takes him a while to process things sometimes, and so he thinks them through by himself until he's ready to talk. He asked me on Saturday if Mika was dying, and I told him, 'no,' that she was just sick right now.

He came to me again on Sunday and asked me the same question. I explained that her MS is a little like his asthma, that sometimes she has trouble with it and sometimes she doesn't. He was able to understand that explaination. We talked about how she may have more trouble with it when she's older, and he said, "like Lillie did," which is what little he remembers about his grandmother.

Then, Griff told me that he'd been thinking about ways that we could help Mika, which is so remarkably touching. He said that he knew that blood gave us energy and good things and so he suggested that we give her some of our blood. His school had a Rodeo Day on Friday, and they had a big jumper thing. He's not a fan of them, so he sat outside it and talked to his friends. He said he asked some of them if they'd be willing to give their blood to help his mama's friend. Again, amazing.

We talked about how Eliza had to have plasma when she was born because she had my blood in her and about how it wasn't very good at the time. so we talked about how good blood is a very good thing, but I also tried to explain that with the MS, Mika's blood isn't bad, so giving her ours wouldn't help. I also told him that I thought it was a wonderful idea, though, and that I appreciated him wanting to help my friend. He said he wanted to help her sons, too, because everyone needs a mama. He's worried that if something happens to her, they will be orphans, and I explained that they have a wonderful father, too, who would care for them. I also explained that Mika's not in any danger of dying any time soon, and that seemed to comfort him. His only connection to MS is that Lillie died of it, and so he's afraid for Mika and her family.

We talked about how doctors and scientists have found new treatments that Mika is taking that weren't available when Lillie was sick. We talked about how doctors and scientists are now looking for a cure (He wants to be a scientist, so that was great news for him. He immediately suggested that we call our friend the scientist so that they could work together to find a cure.). And then we talked about ways that we can help her now. I told him that we live too far away for us to take them dinner or to take her boys out to play for a bit, so I try to send her cards (he said, 'and emails!') and that I pray for them. I told him that I pray for her strength and for her body to have energy so she can take care of her boys. He told me that he would pray for that, too.

I couldn't ask for more. I couldn't be prouder.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, May 23, 2005  ]

Friday, May 20

I'm a big fan of personal responsibility. It's my most recent pet peeve/soapbox issue. I think we should all accept our own actions and the good or bad that comes from those actions. I think parents should accept the responsibility that comes with children.

Whenever people talk about putting more regulations on cable television, it annoys me. I pay for cable. It's something we choose to have in our home. There is plenty on cable that I don't find entertaining or uplifting. I don't watch those things. I am fully capable of making the decisions about what to watch myself and don't want to turn over that right to someone else. Mike and I also accept the responsibility of monitoring viewing habits for our children. Eliza's still young enough that she doesn't watch more than a few seconds, so we don't so much worry about her yet. But we take very specific steps to make sure we know what Griff is watching and that he knows what we find to be acceptable.

When he asks to watch a new show that kids at school are talking about, we all sit down and watch it together to see if we deem it fit for a six-year-old. Sometimes, the all-sitting-together takes a minute and a half for us to turn the show off and pronounce it unacceptable. And sometimes, we sit and find a show that we all find funny and enjoyable.

He and his after school sitters know that he is only allowed to watch PBS shows in the afternoons and that homework has to be done before "Cyberchase." When we got the new television, we programmed into the 'favorites' button kid-approved channels, so that when Griff's watching and flipping channels, he only uses that button, so we're sure that the majority of what he will see will be appropriate. We took these steps ourselves because it's our job as his parents to monitor the shows he watches.

We also help him select books at the library, and we read them with him. We know the parents of the children to whose homes he goes to play. These are our responsibilities as his parents.

My children were God's children long before Mike and I ever considered either of them. They were God's children as I carried them in my belly, and they were God's children before they ever entered our home. They are God's children now, before they are ours. He has graciously entrusted them to Mike and me for safe keeping, and that is an awesome responsibility, one that we take very seriously.

If I give over the decision-making role to someone else - be it friends or family or this group or that organization or the censors or the church leaders or the government - then I am not fully engaging in this responsibility God gave me to rear these children according to His wishes and His ways. And I'm not comfortable doing that. I suppose I figure that the mistakes I make along the way - and unfortunately for Griff and Eliza, there will be mistakes made - will at the very least by my mistakes. And I know that those mistakes will be made in love and that my children will be carried by their first Father even when they are accidentally dropped by their earthly father and mother. It's nice to know that we are all carried in the same Hand, that we share that first Father and His unending love and protection.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, May 20, 2005  ]

Thursday, May 19

Mike is as even as I am up and down. He is the least emotional, most stable person I've ever met. Not much upsets him. By the same token, not much excites him. He has but one obsession (other than the kids and me). He is an Astros fan. And not just any fan. He's a die-hard. A man with an obsession. During the season, we watch three, four, or more games a week. He'll sit in the car with the air on to listen to the game on the XM. He begins his mornings with a check of the Houston paper online to get the local sports news on his team.

His beloved team, unfortunately, isn't faring so well this season. They're next to last in the standings and, though it's only May, are completely out of the running to clinch the division title. And while he's not pleased with that, he's also not discouraged. He's already talking about the wild card bid.

For Mike, the eternal optimist, there is never a reason to give up hope. There is always a wild card race. There will always be another hot streak or another hot bat to lift the team. There will always be some reason to hope, to wish for the stars.

I should take a cue from my wishful husband. When I get really discouraged, I should remember that these things are earthly and temporary and unable to change my true hope. If I put all of my faith in God, then things will work out and there will always be a reason to hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 says,
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

There is such freedom in knowing that God has hopeful plans for me. How could anything be better than the plans He has made for me, for us? I know that anything I could desire or dream ... it couldn't compare to the wonder of His path for me. And so, when I get really discouraged, I try to remember that God's plans are in place, whether I can see them or not. The act I have to take is the not-always-easy act of simply trusting in Him enough to rest easy and wait in Him.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, May 19, 2005  ]

Wednesday, May 18

I loved the Meredith Brooks song, "Bit*h," because it talked about all of the different people we all are. I loved hearing something that reinforced that I can be - am! - different things to different people and that all of those things make up ME.

When we talk to Griff about the Holy Trinity, we explain it that same way (without the cursing, of course). He is our son, Eliza's brother, my parents' grandson, etc. We all have different layers to our personality, different personas that we wear. And I like that. That is what gives depth and meaning and surprise to our lives in a lot of ways. Our interactions would get stale if we didn't have new and changing layers of ourselves.

Mike and I were talking last night about a project I'm doing at work with a co-worker (who also happens to be a good friend). I was telling him that I'm more literal and she's more visual and that we're having a hard time explaining our needs and wants to one another in ways that reassure our own insecurities and encourage the other's strengths (I am thankful that she and I are close enough to share those needs with one another and that we don't get our feelings hurt by differences like this). I said to Mike that I just pretty much want her to tell me what to do & let me do it. I said that I didn't have any ideas or much creativity but that I'm a great rule follower, a great worker bee. This friend is an amazing big picture thinker, and I'm a details girl.

And he laughed. (Which he does a lot during discussions like this.) He insists that I have more creativity than I give myself credit for (which this particular friend tells me routinely), and I was surprised by that. I had told him earlier of a blogger who is holding a contest of sorts in order to find writers for her new team blog, Intellectuelle, and he said I should enter. I think the blog is an interesting idea, but it never occured to me to enter the contest because I don't think of myself as intellectual. I'm a feeling girl.

All of which has made me think about the ways that we see ourselves and the ways that other people see us. I think, in general, I'd probably do better if I saw myself more the way Mike and this friend see me than the way I see myself sometimes. I'm always harder on myself than on other people and than other people are on me. These people see a kinder, smarter, more creative me than I see, and I'm encouraged and reaffirmed to know that they see these qualities in me.

I know they see the ugly sides of me, too, of which I think there are plenty. We all have all of these layers to our souls, and I think it would just be impossible to live in this human world and not develop an ugly layer or two. Sometimes, we think we've moved past those ugly layers of our youth, only to see them pop up again later (a friend of mine made a comment a few weeks ago about race that stunned and shocked me... I knew he had felt that way when he was younger, but I assumed that he no longer held those views, given the more mature and accepting attitudes he's shown in the last few years). How gracious our God is to see the ugly layers, to know them intimately, and yet to love us unconditionally. How generious is He to put family and friends around us who see those ugly layers and love us anyway!

I believe that God puts specific people around us at specific times to meet our needs and to use us to meet the needs of other people. I believe He put Mike and me together because we meet one another's needs. We finish one another out, give balance to our relationship. I am a great rules follower. I always have been. I have a fair bit of respect for rules, and I enjoy the boundaries and safety they provide. Free thinking has never been my strong suit. A pure believe that other people's opinions don't matter isn't something I've always possessed, though I'm stronger in my own thoughts now than I was 10 or 15 years ago. That's because of Mike. He's this individualist, free thinker with opinions and the necessary knowledge to back those opinions up. I'm amazed by his knowledge. And I think he's appreciative of my intuition. God put us together to fill in the open spots between the layers in our personalities. He is using us to smoosh out the ugly layers in one another and to reinforce and build up the good layers.

I am humbled by the ways in which our God works. I am humbled and honored that He chooses to use me in His grand plan.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, May 18, 2005  ]

Tuesday, May 17

Mike and I watched the series finale of "Everybody Loves Raymond" last night, and I began to think about other finales we've seen together, about how periods of my life can be highlighted by what I was watching on television and who I was with at the time.

I remember aching to watch "Love Boat" as a child and being told that I couldn't because of the 'adult content.' I was too naive to understand at the time what 'adult content' was. I just loved the romantic premise.

My brother cut his television teeth on the "Star Wars" movies and on the "Dukes of Hazzard," the first season of which we now own on DVD. Griff didn't find them nearly as funny as Mike and I did when we had a DOH weekend and made him watch all of the first season. Kids shows have evolved too much for him to think a car jumping a pond was funny. Too bad for him, I think.

Mike laughs that I watched but didn't understand "Miami Vice" in high school. I was easily swayed by popular opinion at that point in my life.

My college roommate, MD, and I taped and watched the soaps, and we loved "Life Goes On" but eventually had to quit watching together as we preferred different boys, competing for the heart of one girl.

Mike and I watched the finale of "Cheers" together in our apartment on Dawn Drive. We've said goodbye to "Seinfeld" and now "Raymond" in our tiny little old, perfect house. There's something wonderful about laughing and crying with a person, about sharing moments together.

I think I could do a timeline of my spiritual life in similar fashion... I naively accepted whatever my parents or pastor said when I was a child and teenager. I blossomed into a more mature self during college and discovered that people can disagree about things and still remain close.

And Mike has taught me that my own relationship with Christ is the most important thing. He's shown me how an independent spirit can be a freeing thing when thinking and feeling about Christianity.

I'm thankful he's walking this path with me because when I sometimes still hear that scared, unsure little girl's voice in the back of my head, he's always there to remind me of the stronger woman who's replaced her. He's always there reminding me that the love I have for Christ is usually enough.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, May 17, 2005  ]

Monday, May 16

Mike and I went to lunch together today, just running errands and such, but it was what I needed. I needed to hear his frustrations and his discouragment, and I needed to share mine. I needed the sunshine and the big Sonic drink. I needed to be reminded that the areas of my life in which I feel the greatest discouragement are isolated areas. The area where I feel the disappointment is one in which I need to change my outlook, to alter my perceptions. But, in the end, I was reminded that there are so many other areas of our lives that are amazing and good. Those are the things I need to focus on in order to allay my discouragement and disappointment.

Mike and I had the opportunity earlier this year to change some things in our lives, and we chose not to pursue those particular paths. Some things along those paths would have been better, yes, but at a price we weren't willing to pay. There are things and people in this life we lead that enrich us and bless us and touch us in ways that those other paths wouldn't have allowed. And those are the things - people, mostly! - that will sustain us through these difficult times. And I am deeply and humbly grateful for them.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, May 16, 2005  ]

My heart is heavy this morning. I've had this saddness this weekend that has been hard to shake. Saturday would have been my grandfather's 81st birthday. I lived for 33 years with four grandparents, and within 18 months, I lost two of them. It's been a sad journey for me to lose them and to adjust to the idea of my children not knowing them.

I've also spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about doing the right thing and about how difficult that can be. I'm reminded that God didn't promise us as Christians an easy road to travel. Doing the right thing seems to rarely result in something positive. So many people in power - whether on a national or regional or local scale - seem to lack a commitment to doing the right thing. So many people in power seem to have a general willingness to do the ugly, unconcsiounable thing. I have this theory that it is that very willingness that propels people like that upward through the ranks until they attain positions of power. And those committed to doing right are left working for less, attaining less.

I wonder how I'm supposed to teach my children that they can dream big and that they can be anything they want to be if I don't believe that. Mike says he would rather them have their dignity and integrity than success, and I agree with him. I just hate it that it seems that they can't have both. I need examples of people doing the right thing and being rewarded for it. I need reminders of people who act according to their moral guide and who are touching the lives of people around them in a positive way.

Today, a friend faces something very difficult, and my heart breaks for her. I want to offer to walk alongside her, and yet, as Mike pointed out, I cannot. If I did, it would cost me something I cannot afford to lose. But something inside me breaks at the idea that I am choosing something selfish (in my opinion) over what I think is doing the right thing. Shouldn't I be willing to sacrifice myself for the good of someone else? I am torn and hearbroken over this.

I am discouraged and disappointed.

[  posted by Chel on Monday, May 16, 2005  ]

Thursday, May 12

For Christmas, I took a big wooden box and painted it black. Then, I stenciled the word "SOAP" on the lid in white and gave it to Mike as a gift. He's a man never in search of an opinion, and a literal soapbox seemed to be the perfect gift for him. My willingness to share my opinions is a little less than Mike's, and the things that really get me going are far different than they are for him. One of my biggest soapbox issues these days is that we should all make our own way. As long as we are working within the framework of the Bible and of what we believe God intends for us, then we need - both in our marriage and in our parenting - to determine what fits us and go with that.

So many people - mothers, especially, I find - are so swayed by whether this thing or that method is right or wrong. And I believe that we can't be happy if we are trying to fit our squishy, lumpy, jello-y selves into a hard, set mold that doesn't allow room for us to be who God created us to be. I wrote about that on Mother's Day a bit, and I read an article (taken from a book by Carla Barnhill) at Crosswalk today that makes the point so very well.

We each know our own and our family's needs best, and thus, we should know what methods will meet those needs in the most appropriate and rewarding way. I appreciate all those out there who, like in the above article, encourage women to trust their Lord to guide them and to trust their hearts enough to listen to Him without getting distracted by the din of the voices out there saying we all need to be this way or that way to be right.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, May 12, 2005  ]

Eggs and peanuts. Words that three years ago struck panic in Mike and me. Words that today delighted us both. Eliza is allergic to eggs and peanuts. Because Griff's allergic to them, too, (amongst other things!) we are already accustomed to dealing with those things. We know how to prevent reactions and we know how to treat them when our preventative measures fail. I suppose there have never been two parents more excited to hear of egg and peanut allergies.

Now, I hate it that my genes supplied these allergies. I don't have any food allergies myself, but my list of drug allergies is lengthy. My aunt and my grandfather both have severe drug allergies, as well. One of the things I remember about my Bud is the medic alert bracelet he always wore. I'll be buying one for Griff here soon and a medic alert card for Eliza. Not so much what I would have liked for them to get from me and mine, but it's what is, and so we move forward from here.

I regret that my children will never know the yummy goodness of creamy peanut butter slathered together with grape jelly on warm, toasted bread. I regret that they cannot have birthday cake at parties. I regret that they cannot have a really amazing brownie or donut. I regret that they won't know the feel of a handful of salty peanuts chased with an ice cold Coke.

But there are so many other amazing things they can enjoy, and their lives will be just as rich without these foods. We'll just have to extend our being careful mode to Eliza (who has undoubtedly already benefitted from our caution with Griff), and we'll continue to train those who care for them to know what to do in case of an emergency.

Eggs and peanuts. Beautiful words today.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, May 12, 2005  ]

Wednesday, May 11

In the last issue of "Today's Christian Woman" there was an article about having a less than astounding testimony and about how God can use even those of us with blah stories to tell. My friend, L, and I discussed how rewarding that article was for us to read. You see, we have blah stories to tell about our conversion experiences.

The two of us were (are) blessed beyond measure to have been reared in Christian homes. There was never a time when we weren't aware of God or His presence in our lives. We grew up in church. We accepted Christ at an early age and were faithful to him throughout our lives, with the natural ebbs and flows of growing up factored into the equation.

Our perceptions of the rebellion we engaged in were a little skewed. To most, our rebellious incidents would have been little more than a blip on the moral radar. We were priviledged, fortunate, blessed. And that, in all honesty, makes for a not very riveting conversion story.

But when I think of a testimony, I think of testifying to what God has done, to what He can do, to what He has promised to do in our lives. And that is where we have a story worth hearing. Because I know that God is in our daily lives - in the messy, dirty, difficult, trying, funny, joyous, spontaneous, crazy, amazing everydayness of our lives.

I have always loved Psalms 30:5 which says,
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.

I find such comfort in that verse. God doesn't promise that there won't be difficult days or that we won't have times when we anger or disappoint Him, and He doesn't say that we won't struggle or weep. But He does remind us that joy will come, that there will be brighter, more delightful days. And I take comfort in the difficult times in remembering and anticipating joyful times because I know they're promised to me.

My conversion story is that of a little girl talking to her mother on a Monday night while her father watched Monday Night Football. It's not an exciting story. But my stories of God carrying me through difficult times and then giving me joyous times... those tell more of God's faith than any dramatic tale I could envision. He has been there for us when Mike's mother died after a long and difficult battle with MS. He was there when Mike and his brother had to adjust to the idea of their father remarrying. He was there when we discovered and had to adjust to Griff's allergies. He was there when I was sick through my pregnancy with Eliza. He was there when my doctor said they were going to take Eliza immediately - despite being only three and a half pounds and seven weeks early - or I would die. He was (is) there as we've struggled with the demands of Mike's doctoral work. He was there as we struggled with the stresses and tensions of careers and family differences.

God is there in the little snikkety things of daily life. And that, for me, is where I need Him the most. It isn't difficult for me to trust God with the big picture things of my life, with my future. But I have trouble letting go of the details of life, and that is exactly where I find God meeting me each and every day. And He is gracious to accept me in whatever condition He might find me in those days. And that, I think, is the greatest testimony I could give - of God's faithfulness and constancy.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, May 11, 2005  ]

Tuesday, May 10

We live in the Deep South where we are coddled by the fact that rarely is one asked, 'Are you a Christian,' and often one is asked, 'Where do you go to church?' Here, church attendance is a given, something we assume about one another without reservation. Accepting Christ and being baptized (or recognized, depending upon the church) is a rite of passage, something we accept will happen. The question seems to be the timing not the action itself.

We are privileged to live here, to be ensconced in a world where God is spoken of routinely in all manner of places. Ministers are still invited to pray over the loudspeaker before Friday night football games. School children have Easter parties in school. Through the summer, Vacation Bible School signs are as common in front lawns as wildflowers.

My children are blessed to live where their Christianity will be encouraged and supported as a wonderful thing, not where they might be ridiculed or persecuted because of their belief in our glorious Lord. My daughter's daycare workers sing "Jesus Loves Me" as easily as other toddler songs, and my son's former karate sensai told Bible stories about Biblical figures with the same names as students in his class.

We do not face the difficulties of living in a land where Christians are few and far between, where we must struggle against incorrect perceptions of Christians or of Christ himself.

But even here - maybe most distressingly here - there are difficulties. Rather than heated discussions between Christians and non, we argue most amongst ourselves. It is as if there aren't enough non-believers here (which cannot possibly be true!) for us to convert to the wonder of God and His love, and so we set ourselves about the business of converting one another.

We decide that our specific set of beliefs must be correct, and thus, others must be wrong, and so we go about showing everyone their wrongness and our rightness. Being a Christian isn't always enough here. You have to be the right kind of Christian. You have to worship the right way and do the right thing in the right time. There's so much right that's demanded of us, that it's hard to imagine how any of us could live up to it.

Of course, God's grace is what lives up to it all, of course, the right and the wrong, the good and the bad. But it seems like so many of us, in the midst of being so sure that we've got the right answers and that it's our directive from God to share those answers with folks who've, unfortunately, gotten the wrong ones, that we forget God's grace. We forget that we were given it, and we forget that He extends it to so many more than just us.

And I find myself thinking about this more and more these days, yearning to be sure that people don't see me as that kind of Christian. I want people to see that I'm weak and I'm stumbling and I'm crazy and I'm alone and I'm hurting and I'm needy. And I want them to see that I'm trying really hard to be joyful in all of that because God loves me enough to love me now, with all of these less than right qualities to my person and my life.

And I want people to see that my faith is in my Lord, for my family, my future, my fears, and my fabulous dreams. I want people to see me accepting them on their own terms, where they are now, just as I believe Christ does with us every day.

I'm quite sure there are those who would say I am too tolerant a Christian, that there are things I should take a harder stand on, people I shouldn't be friends with any longer. I think sometimes that intolerance breeds tolerance, odd though that sounds. I think that, as I'm faced with people thinking they have all of the answers, I am more convinced than ever that I don't. But I am so comfortable in the knowledge that I do know the One who has all the answers. And that gives me a peace that overshadows the questions.

He knows. And He loves me. And He IS. And for me, that is enough.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, May 10, 2005  ]

Sunday, May 8

Happy Mother's Day.
Those are beautiful words. I am honored on so many levels to write those words.

I have been blessed by God to have been reared by a Christian woman who believes in Him above all else. God has given me two beautiful, amazing, healthy children. And He, in turn, gave me the tremdendous opportunity to be here with them to watch them grow, to teach them, to love them.

I have the luxury of having Christian women friends who are traveling this path of motherhood with me, and we are able to lean on one another through the thorny patches in the road. And that, I think, is one of the greatest blessings of my life.

Motherhood is so amazingly difficult that it sometimes wears on the best of us, despite our deep and soulful awareness of its beauty and promise. The support and encouragement of other mothers is integral to our survival and success in this crazy venture into mama-hood. Knowing that, I wonder why it is that mothers of all types seem to push and pull against one another, tearing one another down, instead of bonding together to create something stronger.

Working mothers versus stay at home moms. Mothers of one or two or 2.5 children versus those who long for a full quiver, as the saying goes. Mothers who homeschool versus mothers who send their children to public or private schools. Mothers who serve homecooked meals versus those whose best dishes arrive in paper wrappers. Mothers who drive gas-guzzling SUVs to haul their children to endless activities versus those who prefer a quieter existence. Don't we all fall into overlapping categories on different days? Don't we all have the same goals in mind - to rear capable, believing, polite, well-rounded individuals?

Wouldn't things work oh-so-much better if we took all of the time that we put into disagreeing into something more productive like helping one another? For this Mother's Day, my goal will be to be openly accepting of other mothers' choices, to be helpful as I can, to reward independence, to nurture mothers and their children around me.

Happy Mother's Day.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, May 08, 2005  ]

Friday, May 6

I'm home yet again, still sick. It's been forever since I was this sick for this long. The meds have made me sleepy but at the moment, unable to sleep.

I've been reading lots about the Myers-Briggs Personality Typing lately, and I took the quiz to determine my own type. I tend to be skeptical of things like this, and so I was delighted to find that the results of my quiz were very true to my personality. I'm an ESFJ, which stands for Extraverted Sensing Feeling Judging. Apparently, there are only 13 percent of people who fall into this category. It's a nurturing personality type, which is certainly mine.

This link tells about the ESFJ, as does this one. Much of the description describes me well. I appreciate the reinforcement of the positive aspects of my personality, and I find it interesting that some of my perceived negative traits are characteristic of this personality type.

It get frustrated with the excuse of 'oh, I can't change that. It's just who I am.' I don't want to do that. I want to play up the positive with abandon while also looking at the things in my person that I don't like and find useful ways to reshape those characteristics.

I love the notion that God made each of us in a particular way with particular traits and qualities, and I love that He puts us in contact with people who need the characteristics that we have, and in turn, who have the aspects of love that we need. As we talk with Griff about God and about things that we can and cannot understand about God, I know that His grand plan is something I cannot grasp. It is, however, something in which I put my full faith. Without it, what is there? With it, all is possible.

[  posted by Chel on Friday, May 06, 2005  ]

Thursday, May 5

I become very attached to people, places, and things. I've learned through the years that things will change and that I have to learn to change with them. Some relationships are flexible enough that they change and curve along with life. There are also some relationships that are specific to one time or another in our lives, and I've found that I'm okay with that. I understand that now.

But I've been thinking a lot lately about commitment and what it means and how our commitments change and grow just like everything else in our lives. This particular phase in life is so full of commitments - to our families, both intimate and extended ... to our careers ... our friends ... our churches ... our communities ... our God. Do the same commitments we had five or 10 years ago still apply today? Will the ones we honor now still be valid in another decade?

A friend of ours who is a pastor in a neighboring community recently did a multi-week study on commitment in his church. I wish I could have heard his sermons, and I'm secretly hoping he'll post the text of them on his blog. He spoke about commitment to God, family, and church. I'm interested in a minister's perspective on those oh-so important devotions.

So many of us struggle - at least I know Mike and I do - with how to balance our time, how to get the most of what we have, how to make the most of our opportunities. I hear people talk about how people our age don't give enough to the church, about how we don't put enough of our time into being leaders in our churches. And sometimes I feel bad because we haven't done as much with church as we could have in the past years. But I also know that this time for Mike's dissertation is so important to his career that we couldn't ignore that need.

And I know that these years when our children are small are so rich in need. These are the times when we have the greatest impact on our children's lives and their souls, and that is such a deep commitment and responsibility that we have to take it with such grave solemnity.

And so I am torn, as I suspect are so many other women. There are so many worthy outlets for our time and energy and so many needs which God could use us to fill. I am quite certain that I don't have any of the answers. I'm glad, though, that God has given me traveling companions on this journey of faith and commitment and life. These companions who walk with me in my frailty and insecurity and who encourage me in my endeavors are such God-given gifts, and for them, I am deeply grateful.

[  posted by Chel on Thursday, May 05, 2005  ]

Wednesday, May 4

I read a comic strip this morning in which a mother sat in an armchair and told her son, "I'm sick and tired." He asked, "Of what?" She replied, "Of being sick and tired." That's me today. I'm still sick, still tired. With one round of antibiotics and steroids completed and another round of steroids begun, I think I should feel better than this.

I have a friend who periodically teases me about being 'sickly,' which grates on my nerves. I don't like to think of myself in that way. But she doesn't have any children herself, and she didn't know me before I had children. I don't remember Mike or me being sick before we had Griff. I also don't know very many people without children who get sick very often. By contrast, I don't know very many people with children who don't periodically catch something.

Children present us with all of these new germs that we wouldn't come in contact with if it weren't for our little bundles of joy. A doctor once told me that illnesses are worse when they go from a child to an adult than when they pass from a peer to a peer. There's just something about it that's different.

I think the greatest difference, though, is that with kids, the option to stop and rest and heal isn't as legitimate. I feel lousy, sure. But there's still laundry to be done and homework to oversee and meals to prepare and all of the other things that go with having a family. there are ballgames to attend and church commitments to keep. Those things don't go away simply because I feel bad.

Parenthood taxes us physically as well as mentally, and at times like this, it is the physical drain that is the hardest to deal with day in and day out. While I want things to keep going as usual around our house, I also think it's good for my children to see that mamas and daddies get sick and tired, too. It's important for Griff, especially at this age, to realize that we can all work together to make things happen at home. If one person is having a hard time, the rest of us can step up and make a difference. I think it's important that he and Eliza see Mike and me as individuals who are trying our best but who don't always feel good or have all of the right answers.

[  posted by Chel on Wednesday, May 04, 2005  ]

Tuesday, May 3

I cannot remember not loving Mike. I can remember not knowing him, but I cannot recall a time when I did not love him. It is as if my life is divided into two distinct portions - the time before I met him, and the time in which I have loved him. He is an annoying know-it-all who drives me batty and who also happens to be the best man I've ever met, much less had the priviledge to love.

He and I have long known and accepted and appreciated our differences (most of them, at least). He is the head and I am the heart of our family. We work well that way. I'm strong-willed, and he's compliant (unless he gets really worked up, which he does on occasion). I'm outgoing, and he's the one at the party by the food table speaking if talked to, but not making any effort of his own (other than with the dip). I'm impulsive in a controlling, anal-retentive sort of way, and Mike's very much a comparison shopper kind of guy. We work well together.

Relationships fascinate me. I watch other couples together to see how they interact, to see what works for them and what doesn't. I know people who believe that there is one relationship (marital) mold, and all couples should fit into it, following a prescribed set of rules about how husbands and wives should interact and bring together their lives. I don't believe that to be true.

The things that work for my parents would never work for us. Our personalities don't mesh the way theirs do. There are good, solid relationships all around us (thank the Lord for that!), and I am inspired by aspects of each of their marriages, but we could never mimic their inner workings and have them work for us. I watch people and take what I can that is good and strong and workable for us and try to incorporate those things into our lives, but I am also confident in the theory that we do not have to be anything other than what we are.

I love that Gavin DeGraw song about that... "I don't want to be anything other than who I've been trying to be lately." I want our relationship to be that way. I want us to be growing and changing and bettering ourselves, and I want our marriage to be fluid that way, to be accepting of who we are at any given moment.

God was gracious to put me with Mike, someone I never would have chosen for myself but who I need emotionally like my body needs air. God knows what each of us need far better than we ourselves could ever imagine. I heard once this illustration about marriage in a study by Kay Arthur. Each marriage is a triangle in which God is the top point and the husband and wife are the bottom two points. As each individual grows closer to Christ, by nature, they grow closer to one another. I love that. If God is at the top of our marriage and we keep seeking Him, then we are bound to come together.

[  posted by Chel on Tuesday, May 03, 2005  ]

Sunday, May 1

We're reading this wonderful book about God with Griffin, and each day's reading has an action suggestion. We don't always do them. Sometimes, we don't even read that part. But today we did, and I loved the song he made up about God. I thought I'd post it here so I wouldn't forget it.

God is a spirit.
What could go wrong?
He helps us, and we help Him.
He is a spirit who will never come away.
We will give Him our spirits, too.
So He's happy and not blue.
If we give Him a gift,
It will never be too much.

There is such responsibility in this teaching and leading of these children to Christ. I am humbled to be walking this path with Mike and the kids. I am thankful, ever thankful, that God leads us in this.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, May 01, 2005  ]

It's been a long weekend here with events both nights and the WalkAmerica yesterday morning. It was unseasonably cold and probably not the best for me. After a steroid pack and a round of antibiotics, I'd like to be feeling better than this.

This is the last writing exercise in the focus group I enrolled in, and I'm not going to do it exactly as instructed. The assignment was to imagine the perfect mama support system and to write about it as if it was actually taking place. For me, in so many ways, it already is.

While neither Mike nor I have blood family here in town, we have this amazing network of friends and chosen family, as I like to call them. We live two doors down from some of our dearest friends who would do anything for us or our children. The two of them stayed with Griff - and unfortunately had to answer his questions about where I was and how I was - when I had to go into the hospital with Eliza. In all of the craziness of that day, I never once wondered what I would do with Griff. In my head, though we had never discussed it with them - with seven weeks left, that seemed premature - I assumed they would be with him. It was the only way that seemed right.

We have amazing caregivers at Eliza's daycare who not only care for her but love her. She is in capable and caring hands. Working at a college, we have an unlimited supply of babysitters, and we have been blessed to take more than one of them into our home and our hearts. They have become family and are kind and generous to help us. I've called on them more than once in a pinch.

Mike and I both work with people who care for us and our families, people who have before and will again helped us to pick up the slack, both at work and at home when the need arose. I was on maternity leave far longer than anticipated because of Eliza's early arrival, and my boss was amazing. Mike's department helped cover his classes during the time. My boss and I have picked up one another's kids and dropped them off places; we've gotten meds at the doctor's office for various kids; we've babysat.

While it would be nice, certainly, to be closer to family, we are blessed to have this amazing group of individuals around us who love us and care for us in so many ways. So much about this life that we live is stressful and hectic and difficult, but so much more is truly blessed.

[  posted by Chel on Sunday, May 01, 2005  ]